Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Warren Buffet's Import Certificates

Bill Gross's July Investment Outlook argues (a) that a liberal arts education is not worth it, (b) that the governments should be the employer of last resort, and (c) that we have to get our act together as an economy. In discussing our deficit he referred to what Warren Buffet called Import Certificates. (Gross mistakenly called them Import Credits.) Buffet's idea was that to import anything the importer would have to have an Import Certificate for the cost of the import. Where would she get it? Exporters would be given Import Certificates (ICs) matching the cost of everything they export. If adhered to rigidly this would balance imports and exports.

As Buffet pointed out there would be a very liquid market in Import Certificates. Their market price would depend on how grossly unbalanced our trade would be otherwise. The more naturally balanced our trade, the less valuable the certificates since there would be enough to go around. But if we were to import more than we export, there would be fewer certificates available, thus raising their prices. In fact, the price of the certificates would rise to the point that trade would be balanced.

Who would ultimately pay for those certificates? Foreign suppliers would probably pay some of the cost as a way to gain access to the US market. Another part of the cost would be paid by consumers in the form of higher prices on imported goods.

In addition, exporters could use the income derived from selling the ICs they earn to lower their prices, thus making them a bit more competitive.

This seems like a very interesting idea since it does not favor any products, companies, or countries. It simply balances imports and exports. The market would decide how the ICs would be paid for and which products would be penalized the most.

Of course ICs put a barrier of sorts in the way of free trade. Nonetheless it may be a good way to balance our trade without distorting the market too much.

To avoid an initial shock we could start by having the government issue more ICs than are justified by our exports. The number of extra ICs would be reduced year by year until only export-paired ICs would exist.

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